The Yellow Pages contact directory is traditionally one of the easiest ways to find businesses, addresses, and phone numbers. Taking efforts to stay ahead of the curve, the product has evolved to bypass the print era into its current web-based form and mobile presence. For example, the YP Yellow Pages & Gas Prices app’s mid-September update emphasizes local to the max, giving consumers the ability to find the best gas prices and share local deals on goods. Despite YP’s shift into mobile apps, you can still let your fingers do the walking.
In this edition of Meet the Makers Rohan Chandran, AT&T’s Executive Director of Mobile Product Management, discusses the evolution of YP apps, the company’s three P’s of app development, the differences found in developing an app for iOS versus Android, and much more.
Appolicious: The YP iPhone app just released a substantial update. Explain how the app has evolved since launching more than three years ago in concert with the App Store.
Rohan Chandran: Our goal has been and continues to be connecting consumers and businesses in a manner that benefits both parties. How we address that goal will continue to evolve.
Those in the local search market know there's a café around the corner that serves coffee. That's the easy part, and if it isn't completely commoditized today, it will be soon. The challenge for developers is to use that and other information to bring real value to the consumer and help drive their decision-making, on the go.
The original YP app for iPhone users, which was one of the first “local” apps in the App Store, brought the business search experience into the user’s palm– connecting them with nearby merchants. Several other useful features, like event search, were also available.
Over the past year, we've begun to transform the user experience to add another dimension and layer of value. Our new Gas Prices feature on our iPhone and Android app is a great example of this evolution. We don’t just give the user a list of gas stations or prices. Instead, we go one step further and identify the best nearby options, making it easier for the user to reach a quick and valuable decision.
Looking forward, users can expect more from the YP experience when it comes to bringing location, personalization and value together in a thoughtful user experience.
APPO: Needless to say, the mobile media universe has transformed dramatically since July 2008. Describe the differences in approach to creating an iPhone app today - with an enormous existing user base with specific expectations - relative to three years ago when apps were comparatively in an embryonic stage.
RC: What passes for a quality app today is not the same as three years ago and requires a much greater degree of careful engineering from the front to the back-end of the app experience. Areas that we’ve increasingly addressed in development of our apps – especially iPhone and Android apps – can be summed up in three Ps:
Performance: With many developers now tapping into the local content opportunity, we know that the more options users have, the more selective they can be in picking their go-to app. For the YP app and other utility focused apps, we know this means enabling users to quickly complete their tasks — which can be affected by everything from UI design to data accuracy to features like coupons that influence users’ buying decisions.
Personalization: More than ever, the mobile device is one of consumers’ most personal belongings, and they are configuring their devices to fit their individual needs. The YP app encourages users to customize their homescreen to automatically display nearby results in the user’s favorite categories across deals, events and type of gas. We also let users share what they find, such as coupons, with their personal networks via Twitter, Facebook or email. The goal is to allow users to personalize their experience and get where they need to go while saving time and money.
Platforms: Today, we focus our development efforts on a much broader range of devices and user groups than we did three years ago. Currently, consumers can buy an iPhone 3G for $9 and a range of Android devices for under $10. Smartphones are for everyone now and that means we are developing for everyone and device type. The AT&T Interactive team develops apps from the ground up, paying particular attention to the UI, features and other details that make user adoption as easy as possible.
APPO: What are the primary ways AT&T is leveraging this application?
RC: The YP app is AT&T’s flagship local search app and addresses a growing consumer need to find nearby businesses, events, coupons and discounts — and even gas prices — all from one mobile app. Our business not only benefits from offering these useful tools to millions of consumers, but also extends the opportunity for our advertisers to connect with motivated customers as they search for a business nearby.
In addition to offering the app in the App Store, Android Market and other app stores, the YP app is pre-loaded on many AT&T devices (e.g., Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry).
APPO: Is it universal and/or is there a comparable iPad app?
RC: Our goal is to make sure the YP brand is everywhere consumers look for local information. That means we develop for all major mobile platforms – including the iPad. While our apps generally include the same core features – such as business and category search, coupons, discounts and gas prices, we ensure that each feature is a fit for the device platform and its users.
For example, it’s increasingly evident that the iPad is not being used in the same context that mobile devices are being used when it comes to searching for things nearby. We will continue to look at how people use their tablets, and how they really want to engage locally on them, and we will evolve the app to meet that use case.
APPO: Explain the development differences that exist between creating an app for iOS environments compared to Android and other mobile operating systems.
RC: We’ve developed the YP app for all major mobile platforms and it’s clear that in order to provide the best possible user experience, developers can’t create an app and simply distribute it to different app stores.
- Interaction is key. The app has to make sense and be intuitive to use. For example, an Android phone owner with the YP app is an Android user first and a YP app user second – so the interaction has to be consistent with all their Android device experiences.
- There is a lot of variability across the different platforms for which we develop. Some offer a very granular level of control over the device, whereas others provide more black-boxed functionality with tools for support, such as the interface design tools that iOS offers. Different services behave differently across platforms as well, so when we are developing location-centric features, for example, we have to account for that as we implement.
- Finally, it all comes down to user feedback. While we continue to see similar features rise as the most used across platforms, our data points to significant differences in usage across geographies and search interests. Ultimately, the app exists to serve its users, and we make the appropriate adjustments for each platform.
APPO: What are the marketing differences? Both at launch and driving downloads over time?
RC: Our general message and value proposition to the user remains consistent across platforms, but it’s important to address differences across app marketplaces that will help discovery of your app. For example, identifying the best home or category is important, both at launch and over time, and the options differ across app markets.
As a business, we’ve also looked at how app publishers can not only market their apps but actually monetize them. We recently expanded our mobile display advertising capabilities with the launch of in-app local ads on our mobile local ad network. The in-app local ads enable app publishers to serve locally targeted mobile display ads based on a user's location.
APPO: What other independently-developed apps out there have influenced your approach?
RC: There are many ideas and approaches that we keep our eye on and it’s not specific to other apps or local search experiences. We look across Web-based and even offline services to identify what value it offers the user and why they enjoy using it.
For instance, there are several new apps including Ness, Alfred and others that cater to foodies that are worth keeping an eye on, given that restaurants are among the top-searched terms on the YP app.
APPO: Share the three biggest things today in the mobile media space currently keeping you up at night.
RC: Today, AT&T Interactive generates nearly $1B in annual internet revenues based on our local advertising business. Although advertising is at the core of our business, we know that it needs to be integrated in a thoughtful way and not affect the user experience. That leads us to:
Merging of content and advertising — As developers continue to seek monetization opportunities, we must remain focused on delivering value to users, and we must make this a top priority. A few consumer brands have successfully demonstrated that by giving users the value and results they are looking for, they will be satisfied — whether they received that value through a paid advertisement or an organic result. There’s no chicken and egg here; the user must come first.
Next phase of local mobile search — As I mentioned earlier, in our space, everyone knows or is going to know that there's a café around the corner and that it serves coffee. The future of local mobile search is delivering a smarter, multi-dimensional user experience with location as its core.
Being live and real-time — Static and even simply dynamic content is not going to be enough in the long term – we live in an era of instant gratification and especially in the mobile context, people want quick, real-time access and don't want to wait for it. The winners in our space will be those who can truly deliver real-time decision-making value to the user.